Portrait by Ellen Marello
Shared governance emerged in the mid-20th century amid a socio-political climate in which university politics drove the agenda of higher education. With authority vested over the faculty, presidents and boards essentially had the power to derail educational curricula and curtail academic research that sought to advance social policies and public consciousness in an era of rapid cultural change. Shared governance arose in conjunction with the defense of academic freedom, to protect the duty of the professoriate to serve the public good. Over time, shared governance has been sometimes defined less by mutual accountability and public responsibility, and more by a “stay in your lane” mentality. With increasing demands on faculty and their responsibilities pertaining to academics, student experience, and institutional capacity-building, tensions among faculty, administration, and trustees seem inevitable. Trust needs to be cultivated among these leaders of the institution—a trust that comes from sustained efforts to “know the energy of the other,” as Willie Jennings of Yale puts it. The faculty need to know that the administration is their fierce champion before the board; trustees need assurance that the administration and faculty are working in concert toward the priorities which trustees steward. Such trust serves as a bedrock for mutual “response-ability,” accountability, and collaboration.